The Government does not expect to meet its commitment to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands within three years and could create a flexible immigration system after Brexit to protect migrant labour.
According to Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill, the long-standing goal to slash immigration to below 100,000 a year is “not going to be done in the next two or three years”.
Britain, he also said Tuesday, could set different limits on immigration for each sector of the economy as part of a “bespoke” system after it leaves the European Union (EU).
“It may be different for different sectors. It may reflect shortages in our economy,” he told the House of Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee, The Times reports.
“But that is, sort of, speculation, which I think would be unwise to enter into ahead of the negotiations,” Mr. Goodwill added.
The Government is seeking to avoid labour shortages and will consult business over the summer on their needs, he explained, but would not say if business demands would “trump” the goal of reducing numbers.
“The consultation this summer will determine what industry… what their views are,” he said.
The new system, the minister stressed, will be distinct from the Australian-style points-based system and the U.S. green card scheme. He also ruled out allowing regions of the UK to adopt their own immigration systems, as the Mayor of London had demanded.
“This is a target we intend to deliver on,” he said of the immigration numbers. “But we do understand that given a number of other factors in play – particularly the time it takes, for example, to bring doctors through, for training nurses –there’s a whole number of skills that we need to deliver to our people.
“But some of those skills are not delivered in a very short time, so we do understand that. Our aim is to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands.”
Immigration to the UK hit 650,000 before the Brexit vote, its highest ever estimated annual level. Net migration, the difference between those arriving and leaving, was determined to be 335,000 between July and September 2016.
The overall figure was comprised of 189,000 EU migrants and 196,000 non-EU migrants. Around 49,000 British citizens left the country in that time.